The phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” has been true as long as society has been defined by a class system. One class sets the standard to which the other classes must aspire, usually through material possessions, and today more than ever people are striving to live up to those expectations.
Yet, in the race to keep up with the Joneses (or the more-popular Kardashians), our society has put so much stock into material goods that these items are just a symbol of status. Now, once that item is passé, consumers move on to the next new thing and throw out the old.
The iPhone 6 only debuted in September, but people are already giving up their iPhone 5s for the new model, which really isn’t all that different. The only real change between the two models is an increase in size, which just encourages the idea that “bigger is better.”
The concept of overconsumption is a product in and of itself, with companies marketing it as a shortcut to a joyous life. The more things you have, the happier you will be—right?
To compensate for increased spending, the price for goods has decreased, and why wouldn’t you buy a quality shirt for $5? Of course, that is quality with a capital “K.”
People no longer invest their money in a few good quality items which they can own for years. Now, when a shoe is worn down, we don’t bring it to the repair shop for a new sole, we go out and buy another cheap pair for another cheap price.
Stores like Forever 21 and H&M, which target teenagers and young adults, epitomize wasteful consumption as they copy the most-popular styles in fashion, mass produce them with little quality control and sell them to girls who “need” the latest fashion trend in order to keep up with their friends. And even before that trend is over, another takes its place.
As the holidays approach, so do opportunities for people of all ages to shop—not only for themselves, but for the people around them, regardless of whether they actually need any more items.
So it is especially frightening to see how companies are molding the minds of children to make them believe that they need more “stuff.”
I was recently mailed a Target advertisement, on which the words “I wish for this and this and…” were surrounded by everything from Barbies to Beats (obviously targeting a rather large age group).
Then, of course, there are the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, where people ruthlessly trample others—eliciting headlines like “Black Friday Marred By Violence In Several States” (The Huffington Post). According to the article, “a man was…slashed with a knife during an altercation with another shopper over a parking space at a Walmart.” This might be an extreme, but it is nonetheless an example of the dramatic effect that overconsumption can have on society.
Perhaps, instead of standing in line on Thanksgiving, we should spend that time giving thanks for what we already possess. Everyone—including me— is guilty of the crime of overconsumption, but it is now time to stop believing in the idea that “he who dies with the most toys wins.”